Afterword (Victim)

[Victim]

“Fine, you win.” I might as well be saying that out loud as I type this. I never intended to cause controversy with Victim’s third chapter. What caused that controversy isn’t even the focus of the plot. In the original version, Rina and Mica do some world-building and express almost word-for-word some opinions they inherited. That was never intended to be political (in a real-world sense), cause controversy, or come across as clichéd. It was actually meant to be confronted in chapters 13 and 17. But the controversy has come to overshadow the story itself.

I’ve done too many blog posts on the subject. This will be yet another (and the new afterword once the book is republished under my new pen name). But, it is worth repeating that I wrote Victim during my senior year of college. Looking back, I can see why I included the scene in question. I actually went back-and-forth on it for a while beforehand. If I were to write this story today, I would do it differently. I’d probably scratch that scene and incorporate the murderscreens with the history of the Day of Remembrance better at other points in the book. But, overall, I’m not sure it’d be the same story. And I don’t want to dwell on it from that perspective. I’d rather pacify the situation, rerelease my book, and move on to conquer future projects.

There are certain creative decisions I will vehemently defend. An unintended controversy in my first book that I almost didn’t include, don’t really have a pressing desire to keep, and that enrages gun rights activists? In this case, I’m finally opting to edit chapter three. When this book is rereleased under my new pen name, it will have a (hopefully) controversy-free third chapter. Yes, it will still have the murderscreens and the Day of Remembrance. Rina’s motivations might make a bit less sense later, but so be it.

Now, as an author, I get to finally close this chapter. It’s no secret that something in Victim hasn’t sat right for me for the past few years. After its rerelease, the story can breathe. Anyone interested can find the original third chapter on my website (renjdorian.com), along with some reflections on it. The overall story is still intact. I hope you enjoy it.

-Ren J Dorian, September 29, 2020

Victim’s Original Third Chapter

[Victim]

You will likely want to read these reflections before continuing:

[Afterword (Victim)]

[Victim’s Stance on Guns]

[Looking Back and Looking Forward]

3

When she joined me in the kitchen, her hair was blue. It was a pleasant shade, with a bit of lighter green mixed into it. Her black shirt was too big for her, with the overly-long sleeves covering up her scars upon her arms. The long purple skirt covered up the rest of them, since her body was nearly covered. I personally did not care if she hid them or not, but I knew how much she worried that others would stare at her. She already got enough stares without the scars.

“Yes, I used the rapid heal.” She said, sending out a glare in the direction of both me and Ms. Henson, knowing that it was a question we both should be wanting to ask. ‘It itches’ she probably wanted to say, just so that she could show me her distrust of it. But the mother was in the room. Standing at my right, Ms. Henson was staring at her daughter now, no longer at the wall. I knew without looking that her eyes were blank, showing the ‘hollowness’ that had likely sent Rina’s thoughts into that spiral to begin with.

“Ready?” I asked, holding out my right hand. I angled my body a bit, playing a role for all three of us. In that moment, I was a gentleman of the movies, one who could come in and sweep the heroine off her feet. This was the hand that could carry her onto the dancefloor, or that could pull her from a fire’s flames. I could lift her up into the sky with me, or I could lead her away into the secrets of another world. For now, I just held my hand out there, ready to take hers in my own.

I could feel a smile lift itself upon my face. Perhaps this performance was for more than just me to do. Rina’s pose was different now, as she grabbed her skirt and bent down in an attempt at a curtsey. She leaned a bit to her left, trying to balance in the odd foot position. So this was the hand that would take her onto the dancefloor, in one of the parties of a royal court of centuries ago. Maybe that too could take us into another world.

She was smiling, the lightness of her eyes radiating out into the world. The demon voice must be quiet, now letting her experience some peace. Maintaining the performance, I pulled her towards me. I held up her hand above our heads, imitating a movie we saw together once. Turning towards the door, I took a step and bent my knees, lifting myself back up after. Was that how that went? I felt her twirl, spinning her hand in mine. Her heel crushed my foot, sending me a shot of pain. She removed her foot as I lowered my arm. The illusion was broken.

There was a pressure upon my arm. Turning my head slowly, I saw that it was Ms. Henson. Her skin was wrinkled, dry. Looking older than her years. I turned the rest of me, letting myself look back to face her. There was a desperation in her eyes, one that contrasted itself so vividly with the hollowness that I usually saw. It was her eyes that were crying out to me, since we both knew her voice no longer could say everything she needed to. She was begging me to help her. To help Rina.

“I know.” I said, letting myself be the voice. Even so, I saw her mouth open. She was trying to say something, just to get out the words. Patiently, I waited. Even as I knew how impatient Rina was becoming on my other side.

“Protect her.” I could hear the miniscule whisper, the cracking of her voice. We both knew how hard it was for her to speak sometimes.

“I will. I promise.” I said, meaning it sincerely. My mind would protect me; I would protect Rina. That did not change Ms. Henson’s eyes.

“Wait.” She mouthed this one. There was still the desperation in her eyes, as her hand still clutched my arm. On my other hand, Rina was pulling me, trying to get me out of there with her impatience. She barely had the time of day to breathe around the mother, let alone speak with her. I knew it annoyed her that I spoke to Ms. Henson, and that I acknowledged her existing. Even I did not know why I did.

She motioned with her hand. I leaned in, feeling Rina’s protest. Ms. Henson lifted her mouth to my ear.

“There are things you don’t know. Something bad is coming; I can feel it. I can hear it in the whispers. Please, please. Protect her.” The words tumbled out of Ms. Henson, more in number than I usually saw her try to speak. I pulled my head back, seeing her fear. She could hear it in the whispers?

“Let them go.” Mr. Henson’s voice. I turned, seeing him by the other door. “They just announced the trains are down.” His eyes were red, showing how little sleep and how many tears had crossed them there. His big frame and obvious beard stood in odd contrast to the kindness of his eyes, and the sadness always lingering there. If I had not known him and had passed him on the street, then I would have gone to the other side just to avoid him. However, I did know him. And that man appeared to have no temper.

Ms. Henson still clung onto my arm, trying to hold onto both me and Rina. I could feel Rina tugging my other hand more forcefully now, as I could feel how desperately she wanted to get out of there. Witnessing her mother break down was never a pleasant thing.

“Miri. Please. Just let them go.” He said, sounding weary of the world.

“They need to know. I have to warn them.” I could barely hear the whisper. Ms. Henson struggled a bit through the words, even as they tried to tumble from her. In her eyes, I could see the doubt begin, as she began to confuse herself over her own words. Right now, I imagined her wondering what she was talking about, as I had seen her ask mid-sentence before. I hoped silently that it would not come to that.

“Miri.” He said again, sounding calm and patient. I could see the gears shifting in her brain, slowly grinding back into place.

“Okay.” She mouthed, seeming so unsure of herself. Finally, she let go of me, as something on the wall seemed to catch her attention. Turning like a distracted child, she stared again at the paint. Rina nearly yanked my arm off, as she pulled me out the door. I let her take me.

“Let’s go.” Rina said, having pulled me onto the outdoors walkway. Before the door closed behind me, I saw Mr. Henson come up behind Ms. Henson and put his arm around her. That would not be me and Rina some day, would it?

Let’s hope things would never get that bad. And that’s if you two can both survive that long. My mind interrupted my wonderings, as Rina began to pull again on my arm. That last part seemed mean-spirited. Even for the trickster.

“Okay, okay. Calm down. The trains are down. We’ll have to walk today.” I said to her, turning again to face her. I started walking in the direction of the stairs, as I could see the smile on her face. She followed, hanging onto my arm. We walked together, leaving her building and heading towards the street. Other people were passing us. Most were in a hurry, some were taking their time. One woman was trying not to cry. We kept walking, turning the corner.

Rina started pulling on my arm.

I turned, seeing her eyes looking up. The gigantic view screen. But, this one was not a news screen; it was a murderscreen. The entire side of this building was covered in one screen that would broadcast the news constantly. Right now, it was covered in hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures of people. A variety of ages, skin colors, genders. Every one of them had been murdered within the past year. The Day of Remembrance was approaching.

It’s the day after tomorrow.

“It’s illegal to publish the names of killers. Do you know why?” Rina asked. I looked back at her, seeing the fear in her eyes again. It was hard not to notice how many of the victims shared something in common with Rina. Many had the same skin tone, some the same gender. A few even had similarly-dyed hair. I answered her:

“Because of the revenge-seekers and the attention-seekers. They taught us in school that too many killers were trying to out-do each other, trying to get their name out in the media and earn their bit of fame. Or they were trying to glorify an institution, raising society’s fear of that particular group. Didn’t you learn about it?”

“I must have been out that week.” She said, her eyes on the ground. Her other hand was fidgeting with the bottom of her shirt, looking restless. Was she absent because of a time of hurting herself?

I gave her a quick synopsis of gun violence followed by the history of terrorism and school shootings. I felt my voice reciting what was probably almost word-for-word how we had been taught. Because of the Control of Information Act, the teachers had to recite just one blanket statement. They could not add or subtract anything on the most sensitive topics.

“I don’t like guns.” Her eyes still on the ground, Rina was looking a bit childish. In a good, innocent way though. Although, perhaps, she was being a bit naïve. Maybe we both were.

“I know. They’re a bad technology.” I said, quoting her a bit childishly. I saw her eyes jump back up to mine. I knew why she felt that way: she was at a heightened risk of dying by one.

“That’s what I said when I was little, and I still think it’s true.” She declared, emphasizing her strong (albeit, rather simplistic) view. “Guns are only made to kill. I know there’s a difference between hunting humans and using one to defend yourself. But even a wimp can hold a gun and suddenly find power within their hands. It gives them the privilege to do what they want since everyone else is so terrified of them. If I pass a random person with one on the street, how do I know they’re not going to shoot me with it? It’s better that they’re less common now.”

She passed here, having run so quickly through her words. I could see the energy, the fear in how she had talked. There was also a passion in her voice, a strength in her view. I could see the gears turning in her brain, a potential fight with the demon voice. She breathed in.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The Victim Remembrance Movement.” I said, letting my eyes wander back up the screen. “It’s the reason why they stop the trains the day after tomorrow: for Remember The Victims Day. Also known as The Day of Remembrance.”

We both knew what that one was.

Lingering there, our eyes gazed at the faces on the screen. There was so many of them. All of these pictures were of smiling faces, having been taken when they were happy in life. While we were standing there, the woman from before appeared. She was crying freely now, the tears running from her eyes. I watched her lay some flowers on the ground, adding to the make-shift memorial at the foot of the screen. She lingered there, just like we did. Looking back at the screen, I could hear her sobs. Rina tightened her grip.

“Let’s take a trip somewhere.” She said suddenly, interrupting the sound of the woman’s tears. She was pulling at my arm, calling my eyes to her. The woman became silent.

“Us? On a trip? Where would we go?” I asked, feeling a smile creep its way onto my face. The sadness was still heavy in the air.

“To the big city.” She said, her eyes so big and full of wonder. It was as if she was gazing over a world of falling cherry blossoms. Or, at the very least, as if she was staring at a wide, free blue sky, seeing things that I never could. Was she seeing beyond the grey?

There must have been some uncertainty on my face, even as I stared into her eyes. I was the one who suggested we go somewhere, but not that far. Maybe just the other side of town? She continued:

“A bit ago, you said let’s go anywhere but here. Why not go a bit farther?” I could still see the wonder in her eyes, trying to pull me in. The woman started wailing.

“How far would we really go? Would the big city really-” I started to say. But I stopped myself. I had to stop myself. Those were words that I could not say in front of Rina, words that I was not ready to say out loud. I just could not voice them to her. Not now. Not to her.

Would it really change anything? Would the big city really bring us closer to the bright blue sky? Or would we just lose her there instead?

I did not want to lose her. I had dodged the question before: could I survive without her? She had hurt herself today. I knew how highly she raised her expectations, and how devastating a blow to them could be. Would I really be able to protect her there?

“Would that really change anything? Rina, would it?” I could hear the desperation in my own voice. The words had just tumbled out. There was no way to take them back. The woman’s wails seemed to be getting louder. And louder. I could not lose her.

I did not think she meant it to be that serious, but I had taken it that way. She had meant it in the mood of ‘why not?’, and I had taken it as so much more than that. To me, it had to be so much more. I found my eyes looking down.

I had already lost someone else important to a ‘trip’. My brother was my legal guardian for so many years because of them. And because of their selfishness. Were they even still alive?

“Don’t just say yes, Rina. Give me a reason. Please. A good, solid reason. Please, I need to hear one.” That was true, even as my words wanted to set me on my knees, begging with all my might and all my cowardly strength. Would it really change anything?

“I don’t know.” Rina’s answer. I glanced back at her so quickly that I did not have time to blink. There I saw her face; her eyes were looking upwards, back at that murderscreen.

 

For the sake of consistency, this was also removed from chapter 11:

“Tell me what else I missed in school.” Rina said. She drank some of her water, keeping her eyes on me.

“Well, they’re closing transit tomorrow for the Day of Remembrance.” I stated, unsure where to start.

“You already told me that. Tell me some more about the day.”

“What, you never participated in it? I thought every schoolkid did?” Not every. Parents can opt their kids out.

“No, my parents forbade it. They thought it was too depressing.”

“Okay, well. . . ” My thoughts were wandering for a moment, trying to picture a younger Rina whose parents could find something too depressing. Things must have been very different then. Rina took a bite of her pizza, awaiting my response. I spoke:

“Every year, they put on this big parade. All known murder victims, for as long as we’ve recorded murders, get at least a schoolkid holding their photo, if there is one. These schoolkids then all march in various parades around the world. Combined, these parades represent the victims. We have too many to fit in one parade, so they all get divided out, I think by where they’re from.

“The more recent, or better known, victims usually get a float. There they have some relative or important person make a speech about the value of that person’s life. For example, Ann Marie always gets her own float, and at least one important person talking about her. We all know her name because of studying who murdered her. But, in order to talk about him, we can only legally do it by talking about her. So, she gets her own float and people who give out speeches.”

“Wait, how much do we really know about her?” Rina asked, interrupting.

“Enough for someone to get up there and talk. But no one ever questions a victim’s worth to be up there. No matter what, they’re still honored. But we still have murders today, even with all the effort of the Remember the Victims Movement. There are so many theories, and they undoubtedly come up at this parade. Some people even argue that the Remember the Victims Movement just deflects from the major social issues causing violence in our society. But no one ever agrees, all they do is debate and examine theories. How good is examining a problem if you don’t actually act to try to fix it?” I was rambling at this point, trying to follow where my thoughts were going.

Domes

[Novels]

[link to excerpt]

[kindle] [paperback]

Genre: Horror

Pages: [Not yet recorded]

Word Count: [~7.5k as of December 13, 2020]

Publishing Date: Pending plotting, editing, writing, more editing, more writing, a final readthrough, and then betas

 

Summary:

[Summary has yet to be written, but I have some ideas. There are more gory dream sequences than usual in my outline so far.]

 

Sum it up in one sentence:

(????)

 

About:

That’s a working title above, but it seems to fit reasonably well. I might keep it 🙂

This book mostly has a main premise. It was originally a little mini project I set aside after drafting the opening scene. I didn’t know where I was going with it at all! But I wanted to draft that first chapter after a weird encounter I’d had. There’s a real city I visited while working abroad where they are planning to remove some environmental clean-up domes from the harbor. I asked where the domes would go and got a strange non-answer. It occurred to me how frustrating that could be.

But then a friend of a friend came out during the pandemic lockdown. I read her post on social media where she used the term masking. I’d heard it before, but not in that context. It’s occurred to me how vigilant people are around neurotypes in the US, but not where I’ve been living abroad. It’s actually a nice respite. When I was walking on the beach later, a whole list of plotpoint-like ideas came to me for this side project. I had just finished a wonderful writing retreat on that beach (and, for obvious reasons, wasn’t planning to leave the area yet), so it seemed like a wonderful time to explore those ideas. This particular draft is currently a secondary project while I focus primarily on The Man on the Stage.

(By the way, that real city is actually a very pleasant place to visit. I wouldn’t want to live there for very long, but it’s actually really nice. I wanted to fit the horror tone better with some darker scenes for the book.)

 

Nate’s song? He should have one, but I haven’t picked it yet. That’s also a different name than I would usually go with. What do I mean by that? I’ve had some real-world friends named Nate. Usually I wouldn’t use that name for a main character because of it.

 

[link to excerpt]

[link to amazon page]

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Genre

[Blog]

[Victim]

As someone who loves horror, I sometimes lose touch with how people outside the genre view it. It’s no secret that something still nags me about Victim. I’ve done several blog posts on it:

[Victim’s Stance on Guns]

[Looking Back and Looking Forward]

Well, it’s getting reviews again. And I got two in a row that call Mica schizophrenic. Really? That’s time travel shenanigans. But you likely wouldn’t know that unless you read my [Balance of Souls] setting descript. The original intention was a separate character in the voidspace, a literal separate space Mica gets transported to via his own mind. I can see where they read schizophrenia, but some part of me panics about cancel culture and how much I detest the concept that authors must always be speaking directly to the reader. I’m not a preacher.

I remember that one early beta did express concern about Mica’s mental health, but she framed it in the context of anxiety. I actually tuned down and rewrote parts of the book because of that feedback. I don’t necessarily mind reviewers bringing up schizophrenia, but I worry about it being misconstrued. My grandmother was mentally ill (schizophrenia is a likely possibility, in all honesty, but we never figured it out). Aside from that, I have almost no knowledge of schizophrenia. And it certainly was not my intention.

In learning twitter, and in trying to promote my books more by maintaining a social media presence, I’m also learning how vicious it is. I was already aware of cancel culture and authors getting deplatformed, but we’re human just like everyone else. I cannot possibly read every possible angle something could be read from. And, even if I could, I’m not going to be able to please everyone. Thinking like that actively discourages me from writing since it expects an impossible level of perfection. But I’m getting off-topic.

Genre.

Specifically, Victim’s.

It’s been pointed out to me in the past that I don’t stay well in genre. This is true, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. Victim isn’t easy to describe in a traditional sense. One of the new reviews calls it “partly a quest, partly a morality play, and partly a mystery.” He (“scifiguy”) did get that the journey they’re one isn’t just a literal train to the city. But the literal train journey is the easiest thing to put in a book summary.

The original feel of the time point (before I started expanding on it to create my [Balance of Souls] setting), was modeled somewhat on 1984. That just happens to be one of my favorite books, right up there with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The setting moved away from it, but a lot of that feel remains. I have said before that I don’t think Victim can stand on its own as only a horror book. That’s still true, but I tend to go back and forth on it.

In fact, I’m still going back and forth on it. Roughly three years later.

The other review says that they only recommend it for readers who enjoy horror. It’s classed in both science fiction (general) and horror on amazon. I would class it in just science fiction horror if I could, but that’s not a real option. Part of this issue might be that pubby (the system I’m trying to use to get more reviews) wouldn’t let me class it in two genres. I went back and forth a bit before putting it in sci-fi. That being said, I just reclassed it in horror on pubby. I think readers will handle it better there.

The cover is, in part, a warning: this book is dark. It’s the darkest book I’ve published so far. The original Into the Unknown (the unpublished version) was so terrifying that I rewrote it. It Began with a Dream, in my opinion, actually varies in how dark it is. I’ve gone back and forth on IBwaD’s genre as well, but it’s so gorey that it makes that decision much easier. You can’t class Carrie as anything but a horror, and it’s the same for IBwaD. But that means that IBwaD is practically classed in genre for me. Victim isn’t like that.

And, ultimately, I’m tired of feeling unsettled around Victim.

I’m updating the site to only class it as a sci-fi horror (not just an S-H). And I’ll be keeping it classed in horror on pubby. Going forward, I’m going to do my best to only call it a sci-fi horror. Not just a darker sci-fi. I may even lean more into it being a horror. But I want it to finally feel settled.

Maybe the monster in Mica’s void will haunt some readers’ nightmares again. Mwahahaha! 🙂

(Here’s a positive thing about the pen name change: Amazon’s updated their system. I’m no longer as limited by the traditional BISAC codes, even though they’re technically still used. I can now put it in both sci-fi (general) and horror. When I first published Victim through createspace, I could only class it in one genre. Now I get two.)

Here’s the three reviews on Victim so far post pen name change: